Some people would do just about anything to get into Canada.
According to a RCMP statement released Tuesday, Montreal police have charged 39 people in relation to an investigation into a massive fake marriage scheme which could involve hundreds of "suspicious marriages."
"The investigation revealed that Mr. [Amadou] Niang, a bogus immigration consultant who is believed to be the mastermind behind this scheme, provided advice on how to submit misrepresented facts to Citizenship and Immigration Canada to individuals whose visas were due to expire," the statement reads.
"Specifically, he organized fake marriages with the assistance of accomplices to allow these individuals originating from North Africa to remain in Canada. The network recruited young Canadian women in the Montréal area and arranged for them to participate in marriages of convenience in exchange for money."
According to the Montreal Gazette, the mastermind, Niang, made a brief court appearance Tuesday. His lawyer told reporters that there may be a plea bargain in the works.
Recent statistics are scarce, but a CBC News report from last year noted that between 2008 and 2010, CBSA had received some 200 leads on possible marriage fraud from various sources. In the same report, CBC cites an internal Canada Border Services Agency memo which states the agency bristled at media coverage last year suggesting "a lack of action" on marriage fraud.
In a different CBC News story, journalist David McKie noted that "in an internal document, the agency has conceded that it does not consider marriage fraud a high priority."
While the evidence points to an increase in marriage fraud, immigration attorney Michael Niren insists the problem isn't as bad as it seems.
"It should be pointed out that the vast majority of sponsorship applications are legitimate, submitted by well-intended applicants," he told Yahoo! Canada News.
"The [Jason] Kenney administration, in an effort to crack down on marriage fraud cases has proposed some restrictions..to prevent marriage of convenience cases. There are certain countries where marriage fraud cases seem to be more prevalent such as in India, China and Pakistan. But it I can't stress enough that most of these cases are for real."
Back in March, the Harper government did bar sponsored spouses from sponsoring a new spouse for at least five years
They've also proposed adopting a more 'American-ized' approach: in the U.S., newly arrived spouses are given "conditional resident" status for two years before they can apply for permanent residency.
Canada currently grants the immigrant spouse permanent status upon arrival.
How much money do 'fake' spouses make?
We're certainly not condoning marriage fraud, but have you ever wondered how much money you can make for 'posing' as a spouse of a foreigner.
According to a Tweet by immigration minster Jason Kenney on Tuesday, unscrupulous individuals would pay you "in the $60,000 range (or more)" to marry a foreign national strictly for immigration purposes.
Update: In response to this story, CBSA has sent Yahoo! Canada News the following statement:
The CBSA takes violations of Canada's immigration laws, including marriage fraud, very seriously and works closely with its partners, including Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), to identify, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law those who violate our immigration laws.
Currently, the CBSA has a number of criminal investigations under way into suspected marriage of convenience fraud and will continue to pursue cases as they come to the Agency's attention. As well, the Agency has removed sponsored partners from Canada for having misrepresented themselves (as per section 40(1) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act). In 2011, 104 people were removed from Canada for misrepresentation, which includes marriage fraud. Our efforts at detecting and stopping this type of fraud, along with those of CIC and the RCMP, demonstrate the Government's commitment to ensure the integrity of our immigration system.
We also have a Border Watch Toll-free line — 1-888-502-9060 — that members of the public can call to report suspicious cross-border activity or immigration-related offences. All information is treated as confidential. Tips accepted include marriages of convenience, misrepresentation in any temporary or permanent immigration application, or the whereabouts of any person wanted on an immigration warrant.